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Friday, May 13, 2022

LOS ANGELES—Building on the Los Angeles Justice Fund created in 2017, the City Council Tuesday adopted a new framework to provide free legal services to immigrants in partnership with Los Angeles County, the Weingart Foundation and the California Community Foundation.

According to the framework's proposal, the program will prioritize unaccompanied children, immigrants experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness, immigrants with Temporary Protected Status, asylum seekers, human trafficking and violent crime victims, fraud victims, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals participants and individuals eligible for new immigration relief opportunities.

Immigrant-rights advocates with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, CARACEN-Los Angeles and the UCLA School of Law Center for Immigration Law and Policy spoke during the meeting to urge the City Council to adopt the framework.

Gloria Cruz, policy director of CHIRLA, told council members the city's immigrants pay nearly $15 billion in taxes and "held more than $38 billion in spending power in 2019," citing a report from CHIRLA in partnership with the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs.

"Over 90% of L.A. Justice Fund clients have been people seeking asylum, unaccompanied children, unhoused people and survivors of domestic sexual violence, as well as human trafficking," Cruz said, adding that 56% of the clients have lived in the United States between 11 and 21 years on average and have "deep roots in our communities."

The City Council's vote Tuesday also instructed the City Administrative Officer and the Chief Legislative Analyst to report on options to include in the program wrap-around services, including housing for unaccompanied minors, access to healthcare services and job-preparedness services.

The 2021-22 fiscal year budget included about $2 million for the program, which the City Council on Tuesday allocated. The city will also seek additional funding for the program through the federal and state governments, according to the motion.

The Los Angeles Justice Fund was created in 2017 as a collaboration between the city and county of Los Angeles, the Weingart Foundation and the California Community Foundation, initially as a two-year pilot program to provide legal services to people facing deportation. A report from the Vera Institute of Justice found that between November 2017 and March 2020, more than 1,730 residents received free legal screenings and 546 people received direct representation. Representation allowed 62% of the clients in closed cases to remain in the U.S., according to Vera.

The City Council on Tuesday also authorized the CAO to develop a bid process to select a lead organization to serve as program operator and an organization to manage data collection, evaluation and performance metrics of the cases. The lead organization and program evaluator will also be responsible for monitoring eligibility requirements and program access.